A high alert was sounded in Himachal Pradesh on May 8, after Khalistan flags were found tied on the main gate of the state Legislative Assembly, while slogans were scribbled on the walls of the complex in Dharamshala. All inter-state borders have been sealed, and police are strictly monitoring the area.
Since last year, a series of similar incidents have come to light. A series of attacks were carried out by pro-Khalistanis in Punjab and its adjoining areas.
The strikes included a grenade attack on an Army Camp in Pathankot, an attack on the CIA police station in SBS Nagar, a blast in Jalalabad in Fazilka, and a grenade attack on a police post in Roopnagar.
All these incidents confirm how the Khalistan movement, which appeared to have become dormant a while back, has once again assumed centre stage. We take a look at what the Khalistani movement is, who started it, and how the movement has picked up momentum recently.
The Khalistan Movement
The Khalistan movement refers to a Sikh separatist movement that seeks to establish a separate Sikh homeland within the Punjab region. The proposed state would consist of land that presently forms Punjab in India and Punjab region that belongs to Pakistan now.
The call for a separate Sikh state began in the wake of the fall of the British Empire in the 1940s but it gained ground in the 1970s and 1980s. Under Akali Dal’s leadership, the Punjabi Suba Movement was started for the creation of a new state for Punjabis post-independence. Akali Dal was seen as a Sikh-dominated political party that sought to create a separate Sikh province. The States Reorganisation Commission, however, rejected their demand.
In 1966, after continuous protests, the state was trifurcated into Punjabi-majority Punjab, Hindi-majority Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Some hilly regions of the state were merged into Himachal Pradesh.
Anandpur Sahib Resolution
The Anandpur Sahib Resolution was a statement with a list of demands made by the Shiromani Akali Dal, in 1973.
The Akali Dal gave a tough fight to the Congress in the years 1967 and 1969 respectively but Congress managed to sweep to power in the 1972 elections.
This prompted the Shiromani Akali Dal to introspect. The venue for this introspection was the Anandpur Sahib Gurudwara, where the party adopted a resolution that would serve as a blueprint for the party’s future agenda. The resolution demanded autonomy for the state of Punjab, identified regions that would be part of a separate state, and sought the right to frame its own internal constitution.
This was the Anandpur Sahib Resolution.
As per analysts, to control the Akali Dal’s rising graph in the state, the Congress party brought Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a religious scholar.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was a Sikh extremist and an advocate of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, who gained attention after his involvement in the 1978 Sikh-Nirankari clash.
In 1978, Bhindranwale preached against the Nirankaris which led to a clash between Sikhs and Nirankaris. About 15 Nirankaris were killed.
In 1980, the Khalistanis killed Nirankari leader Baba Gurcharan Singh. The next year, Punjab Kesari editor Lala Jagat Narain was killed. He was writing against the Khalistani movement. In all these incidents, Bhindranwale was the prime accused. He was arrested but released due to lack of evidence against him.
Operation Blue Star
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale launched a civil disobedience movement against the Punjab government in 1982. Deputy IG Police, AS Atwal, was killed when he was leaving the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
In 1987, several Hindus were killed in Lalru. In December 1983, Bhindranwale made Golden Temple his residence. Shubheg Singh, who was the war hero of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, shielded the Golden Temple with Bhindranwale’s soldiers in April 1984.
It was in June 1984 that Indira Gandhi ordered ‘Operation Bluestar’ to bring out all terrorists from the Golden Temple.
For nearly five days, the Indian Army used heavy artillery, tanks and helicopters to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was demanding the establishment of Khalistan – a Sikh homeland – from inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
At the end of the operation, Bhindranwale, along with his accomplices, was neutralised and the Indian Army took control of the shrine.
Sikhs For Justice
The Himachal Pradesh Police on May 9, booked Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, one of the founders of the banned group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), in a case involving the hoisting of Khalistani flags outside the state Assembly complex in Dharamshala.
The group, founded in the United States in 2007, aspires for Punjab’s secession from India to establish an “independent and sovereign country” – Khalistan – in the state.
The recent set of attacks and actions, signal how the movement has picked up in recent years, restating a comeback for the extremists.